In the name of science

After speaking to family members at a funeral last week it became apparent that more and more people are considering donating their body to medical science after they die.

As an alternative to burial or cremation, body donation or medical donation, as it’s also known, can be appealing for a wide number of reasons.

However, I couldn’t help thinking that there seems to be a real common misconception about the whole process.

Donating your body to science is a concept most people are familiar with yet few know how to go about. It’s not just a matter of having your body dropped off at the nearest laboratory; medical donation is actually a complex and tightly regulated practice.

Bodies donated for anatomical examination are a vital resource for medical education and play a crucial role in producing practitioners of the highest standing.

While this may not be a high priority for some families, other families can take solace in the fact that they are able to make a positive impact on future generations.

While body donation offers many advantages, there are also disadvantages you should consider before finalising your plans.

It’s widely believed that if you choose to donate your body to medical science, it will be accepted with no questions asked but this is just not the case.

Under the Human Tissue Act 2004, written and witnessed consent for anatomical examination must be granted prior to death; consent cannot be given by anyone else after your death.

A consent form can be obtained from your nearest medical school and a copy should be kept with your Will.

You need to plan carefully to ensure that your body will be accepted regardless of the manner of death. 

As is sometimes the case with insurance policies, should you (or a loved one) die in a manner that is excluded under the terms of the contract, surviving family members would be responsible for making alternative arrangements. 

This means even if you were planning on donating your body to science at relatively no cost, your loved ones could end up footing unexpected funeral bills.

So it’s worth having a “plan B” in place just in case your donation is not accepted by the medical school because of an excludable manner of death or because the body could not be transported to the medical school within a reasonable amount of time. 

As time is of the essence when donating a body, there is usually not enough time to hold a memorial service with the body present meaning that some family members can’t find closure in the same way. 

While donating your body to science can be a wonderful way to serve future generations, it’s important that you undertake thorough research in order to make a well informed choice.